by Mike Masnick
Mon, Aug 29th 2011 1:44pm
Yet another case where technology and the law collide. A man in California is facing criminal stalking charges for tweeting a bunch of nasty and offensive (often violent) tweets at a Buddhist leader in Maryland with whom he'd had a falling out. Apparently he sent thousands of such messages, sometimes talking about ways the woman would die. But the case is raising significant First Amendment questions. There are anti-stalking laws designed to deal with someone sending threatening messages directly to someone via phone or postal mail, but what happens when it's on a public forum like Twitter. Suddenly, the First Amendment questions loom large. A person can stand on a soapbox and say offensive things about another person -- that's their First Amendment right. So the issue is where on the spectrum tweets directed at someone fall. Of course, the other issue here is what happens when you have vague "anti-stalker" laws, which seem to have contributed to the concerns here. The rather reasonable fear is that a ruling here opens up anyone who says anything "offensive" about someone else to possible criminal charges, which clearly would be a big free speech issue. So how do you distinguish between someone making credible threats, and someone just venting in an obnoxious manner? Can you distinguish between the two?
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